Having read the Bible for years, today I read with an eye for things I’ve missed, words I may have previously taken for granted. We are covering the conclusion of Ephesians 2:11-22 in our Bible study. What caught my eye this week is Eph 2:14-15
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace…
Abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances?
If that is the case then what do we do with the words of Jesus in Mathew 5:17-18.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
As always the law of noncontradiction applies. Scripture does not contradict scripture. Only our misunderstanding contradicts scripture. I wondered. As was the case with words like “judgment” and “power”; perhaps there were multiple Greek words for the English word “Law”.
There were not.
“Law” in Eph 2:15 is the same “Law” in Mat 5:17-18 and everywhere else it is used in the New Testament.
Law- nómos: anything established, a custom, a command, of any law whatsoever, a law or rule producing a state approved of God, a precept or injunction – the rule of action prescribed by reason – of the Mosaic law – the Christian religion: the law demanding faith, the moral instruction given by Christ, esp. the precept concerning love – the entire collection of the sacred books of the OT.
“To be (abolished) or not to be (abolished)? That is the question.”
I dug deeper.
Turns out – Eph 2:15 is a proof text for one of the worst heresies in church history.
Marcion (Markeeon) of Sinope 85 –160 AD was a nontrinitarian, gnostic theologian who preached that the God of the Old Testament was an angry vengeful God of Israel who had created the world from whom Jesus came to save us. Gnostics called this OT God the “Demiurge”. Marcion’s interpretation of Ephesians 2:15 was that “If Christ destroyed the Law by his teachings, the Law could not be good. Paul called the Law “good”, but for Marcion, the creator’s justice was only a cover for his savagery. From Marcion’s perspective, the Law revealed sin and thus enslaved people to the creator (The father). Christ came to abolish the entirety of this Law to free humanity from slavery to the creator. Since Christ came as the destroyer of the creator’s Law, he proved that the Law was evil, yet if the Law was evil, so was the divine Lawgiver.” Destroyer of the Law – Oxford Academic
Logical, but dead wrong.
Interestingly, Marcion-esque thinking continues to impact the body of Christ today. One recent example is Andy Stanley’s declaration that the church needs to “Unhitch from the Old Testament”. Think about it. Have you ever heard things like “That was just the Old Testament.” “The law was for the Jews” “We are not Jewish.” and “We aren’t under the law. We are under grace”? Martin Luther wrote, “love God and sin boldly…”
Maybe you were taught that the law does not apply to us today.
“We aren’t under the law. We are under grace” is true in the proper Hebrews 4:16throne of grace context. However, a commonly mistaken implication is that the Old Testament is nothing more than a history book with a few good life application stories. The law is for Judizers and Pharisees. Errors like this are the unintended consequences of poor discipleship and a lopsided gospel that is itself rooted in a need to please people. Ouch! So often “Daddy God loves you and has a plan for your life.” supplants rather than compliments the message that apart from Christ we are “dead in our trespasses and by nature children appointed to wrath…” Eph 2:1-3
Let’s face it. We are immersed in a culture of opposites, left vs right, good versus evil, this or that”. Ask most anyone “what is the opposite of light?” and they will say, “darkness”. The New Age which is just an old age conglomeration of Babylonian occultism and Gnostic dualism teaches that light and darkness, good and evil, etc., are interdependent. Like opposite sides of a coin, one can not exist without the other. Interestingly, dualism is also the root of dialectical materialism, the foundational teaching of Karl Marx. An estimated 110 million people died as a direct result of his teachings in the 20th century alone.
But I digress…
Darkness is not a thing. Darkness is the absence of light. As Roland Baker says,
“Our God is not the God of this or that. He’s the God of this and that.”
As we learned in Ephesians chapter one God’s will and plan existed before the foundations of the world. It is a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Eph 1:10 In the end there are but two categories in creation.
“In Christ who gives us light” and “darkness”.
Hence Jesus did not come to destroy but to fulfill…” Mathew 5:17-18 “Fulfill” is the same word Jesus repeatedly used throughout the Gospels. Plēróō-to fulfill, to cause God‘s will as made known in the law to be obeyed as it should be, and God‘s promises given through the prophets to receive fulfillment.
The abolishing ofthe law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two… has been accomplished in the sense that the war was won before it even started. However, we will only realize its complete fulfillment in the fullness of time. We will know the fullness of time has arrived when Heaven and earth pass away Mathew 5:17-18. Until then the Law is the standard by which He conforms us to the image of His Son. Rom 8:29 The law informs us that we need to come boldly to the throne of grace. Hebrews 4:16 It defines our needs and inspires our gratitude for His grace. The Law is not bad because it kills 2 Cor 3:6 The Law is good because it kills. It binds our flesh, our pride, our selfishness, and self-centeredness that “is the root of all our troubles” to the proverbial altar and slays it as a living sacrifice so that we may be transformed by the renewing of our mindsRom 12:1-2. Only then can the spirit give life.
Our God is the God of this AND that. Among other things, He is a forgiving, wrathful, patient, jealous, consuming fire Heb 12:18-29. His thoughts and ways are not like ours. They are higher than ours. Isa 55 He alone defines Love. He alone is Love. Everything He did, does, and will ever do is love, in spite of how it might offend our natural, dualistic, and yes – Marcion sensibilities.
In the meantime, we can rest in the fact that as believers we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Eph 1:13-14
If you are anything like me you will be familiar with the temptation to fly through familiar verses in the Bible under the assumption that
“I already understand… because I’ve read it at least a hundred times…”
Others abstain from “headiness” because Holy Spirit informs their understanding. This is certainly true provided our understanding conforms to scripture. Still, we must always keep in mind that God’s word is truthJohn 17:17.
Our ability to hear God comes from the word of God Rom 10:17
We are to study to show ourselves approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.2 Tim 2:15
Having determined that Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek we considered how punctuation in different translations might impact our interpretation.
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will Eph 1:4-5
Is it “…holy and blameless before him in love.”? Or “In love, he predestined us for adoption…”?
You might accuse me of more hair splitting. However, establishing literary context requires us to consider linguistic differences. At the very least it highlights our human propensity to assume.
We asked the question; who are we, us, and you? Jesus came first to fulfil God’s covenant with Israel. Mat 10:5-6 The gentiles were then grafted in Rom 11:11:36 We determined that in Eph 1 Paul is establishing the unity of Jewish and gentile believers.
…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he outlined in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Eph 1:9-14
“We” are the Jewish believers. “You” are the gentile believers.
Would it surprise you to learn that the final words of Jesus “It is finished” did not mean “everything is finished”. The promised Holy Spirit given in Acts 2 is not our full inheritance but a guarantee of what is still to come.
Guarantee (an earnest KJV) arrhabṓn: money which in purchases is given as a pledge or downpayment that the full amount will subsequently be paid.
There is an eschatological shadow of things to come in the book of Ephesians. Some people shut down when they hear that word. Others become energized and obsess over the wrath of the dragon in hope of anticipating the antichrist and his mark etc. But Jesus framed the end times in the context of childbirth. Mat 24:3-31 That birth is the reset of all creation back to its original state – the birth of His plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven, and things on earth.Eph 1:10
Like the rainbow we thought we saw in full, one day we will come full “circle” and realize the full possession of our inheritance.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Cor 13:12
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him,
What is Truth?…
On the surface, Pilate’s question known by some as the Jesting of Pilate seems absurd. Was he arrogant and just sarcastic? Or was it a serious question posed by a man whose very survival depended on his ability to discern truth while trying to manage colliding worldviews?
Truth has been the primary battleground from the beginning. The ongoing deception of the entire world began in Genesis 3:1 with the question “Did God really say?”. Truth was the battleground when Satan tempted Jesus in Mathew 4. Jesus defeated Him with scripture. Later the disciples questioned Jesus regarding the time of the end. He prefaced the entire Olivet discourse with,Take heed that no man deceives you. Mathew 24:4 He further warned them in verse 24.
For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs andwonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
If truth is the battleground, it behooves us to clarify what truth is.
If you’ve ever navigated by compass then you know how challenging it can be to stay on course. If you travel by land you plot your course from landmark to landmark. If you are sailing in the open ocean you must keep your eye on the compass at all times. There is a big difference between one degree off for one hundred feet and one degree off for one hundred miles.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge specifically how we determine what is true. Throughout Western history, most people, especially Christians believed the universe was governed by objective truth. That truth was both knowable and absolute. That we have a scientific method at all is the direct result of scientists taking Prov 25:2 to heart. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter. They assumed the God of the Bible created everything according to the objective laws that He also created, then they prayerfully and worshipfully sought to discover how He did it.
Many are unaware that we have been progressively submerged in an opposing culture of relativism since the advent of postmodernism in 1979. But don’t get stuck on the terms. If words like relativism and postmodernism sound confusing just imagine an entire school of philosophy proudly based upon the words “did God really say?”. Perhaps you have heard “your truth is your truth”. “My truth is my truth”. “If you love me you will honor my truth.”? Long story short postmodern relativism is a large part of we ended up
Assertions like “Truth is objective” or “Truth is relative” are called presuppositions. We can’t prove them beyond a shadow of a doubt so we presuppose or assume they are correct then reason and construct our reality from there. What I would like you to understand is that all worldviews and truth claims are built on one’s presuppositions. World views rarely change until the underlying presupposition changes.
Only God can establish correct presuppositions. 1 Cor 3:6-9
While we can not change the presumptions of unbelievers by arguments alone, sometimes our own theological presuppositions can get off course. This applies to all of us. While we know that discussions between opposing world views can become hostile, discussions between believers must not. Their purpose is mutual edification and sanctification. Prov 27:17Isaiah 1:18 In any case the Bible gives clear instructions on how to approach any discussion.
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason (Apologia– Greek for a reasoned argument) for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
1 Pet 3:15-16
How often do we listen to an assertion about God that strikes us as patently false and yet we remain silent out of a sincere desire to love and honor the speaker by honoring their truth? Respectful questioning is the way that “Iron sharpens Iron”. We listen to, and share thoughts, perceptions, and ideas, then compare them with the Word of God. This methodology is what Paul the Apostle praised in Acts 17:11.
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now, these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. Acts 17:10-11
When we first come to Jesus our surrender is often accompanied by an encounter with His invisible attributes, his eternal power, and his divine nature. This experience becomes our testimony. Our testimonies are vital because faith comes by hearing… Rom 10:17 Testimonies help bolster the confidence of believers and challenge false assumptions in the minds of unbelievers.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Rom 1:20
Unfortunately, Mormons, Muslims, and Hindus also have experiential testimonies. Testimonies inspire us to seek and delve deeper into the truth. But testimony alone is not enough to establish the truth. Hence the full text of Rom 10:17 says Faith comes by hearing and
Hearing by the Word of God!
The God-breathed Word 2 Tim 3:16-17 is what tunes our ears to hear. It is whatultimately separates the practice of Christianity from other faiths. It supports, confirms, and sometimes refutes our perceptions and ideas. The Bible is a glass – amirror in which we see dimly and therefore know in part. 1 Cor 13:12 It is through the lens of the Word that we begin to apprehend the faith Heb 11:1 required to follow Jesus. 2 Cor 5:7.
His Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 At the end of the day Truth is found in the sum of it. Psalm 119:160 I don’t know about you but nothing gets me more excited than when a truth I haven’t seen is revealed in His Word. I know what it means to feel like one who finds great spoil. Psalm 119:162. Most of all I praise Him for His truth. I rest in the assurance of knowing the power and importance of His Word because I know He has magnified His Word above all His name.Psalm 138:2
If the Word of God is most important to God then it follows that it should be most important in the life of a believer. It is impossible to know God apart from it. Thankfully Holy Spirit makes it possible through revelation amidst our self-disciplined study and our God-given powers of understanding.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:13
They have been declared in His Word.
As for other ways of hearing and knowing God, e.g. prophetic words, we can be certain that they are real. So is falsity. Falsity happens when a speaker usurps the authority of God’s Word. Therefore we are commanded to test everything.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thess 5:19-22
At the risk of being redundant,
we test everything with the Word of God.
Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Rev 19:10
We ask Holy Spirit to guide and lead us into all truth contained in scripture – to teach us about the character, nature, and plan of our God who does not change. Mal 3:6, Heb 13:8. We endeavor to be good Bereans in the interpretation of revelations, ideas, perceptions, presuppositions, and experiences. We all see as in a glass darkly. It makes sense that we all might see better if we see together. We believe that we can and should Study God’s Word both individually and as a community because Jesus affirmed it when he prayed,
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17
The likely duration of the devastation in Honduras is just starting to sink in following our outreach last week. The sense of powerlessness we felt as we passed miles and miles of tarp cities along the way is hard to describe.
Meanwhile, Josh fell hard off a ladder and injured his shoulder. His arm is in a sling. If that weren’t enough our ministry vehicle has big issues and
We are grounded for a few weeks.
What to do, what to do?…
I know. How about we catch up on the news.
As usual, our world is in turmoil over worldviews and politics. As always there are many on both sides of the political sewer stream who believe they know the truth. Yet apart from hands on daily experience the only thing any of us really know for sure is the content of what we have been told or shown via some form of media. Like it or not most of what we consume only skews reality. As a media creator myself I know that some of that skewing is inevitable. Some is by design.
Inevitable causes result from the emphasis being determined by the creator. If you watch one of my videos you inevitably see what impacts me. I want you to see and feel what I see and feel. That’s why I’m creating it. The greater my passion the more my own biases pass through the lens of your perception, world view, and life experience. You then draw your own conclusions and pass them onto others. The process goes on ad Infinitum.
On some level, every media consumer becomes a co-errant creator.
Skewing by design is intentional and may be used to honor or dishonor the subject.
Anyone who has been interviewed by me knows that I cut errors. Any hesitation, confusion, cussing, stuttering, or farting is removed such that even the most awkward and nervous subject looks like a seamless orator. I do this both for the sake of time and honor. The dark side of this is that people can be made to say things they never said. All it takes is a simple switching of camera angles and adding b-roll to cover spliced clips. For example, I could ask you what you thought about cockroaches in one question and what you think about puppies in the next then splice the answer to the first question onto the second and walla! You have been transformed from a clean person into a genocidal puppy killer.
Yes, it’s really that easy.
Viewing is skewing
The diminishing attention span and patience of viewers as well as the accelerated speed at which people scroll through SM messages requires videos to be shorter and shorter. Advertisers know they have no more than 5-15 seconds to hook you or you will scroll through their message on your device. That’s why they allow you the “Skip Ad” option. As a result, billions of people make instant and completely subjective decisions regarding truth and the nature of reality everyday based on media titles and headlines like “Trump Invokes Insurection Act” alone.
You don’t have the wisest serpent in the den to discern where this might lead.
What is True?
Four years ago on New Year’s Eve, we were en-route back to Kauai from Africa where we had attended the Iris Global Harvest School of Missions.
Africa was paradigm-shifting, to say the least. We saw what it means to really lay it all down for the sake of the gospel. We learned that while miracles and projects happen and doctrinal differences always arise, mission work a.k.a. Christianity begins and ends with intimacy with God and stopping for the one in front of you.
Thankfully it wasn’t until we returned that we heard the myriad controversies regarding Heidi Baker. Like any famous person she is enshrined by some and bedeviled by others. Suffice it to say that anyone who has not personally encountered her on the mission field should stop talking.
The same applies to Christians talking about anyone’s character whom we only know via the media. As it turns out I have been duped too. Allow me to be the first to repent of this.
The entire body of Christ is comprised of fallen, cracked pots.
How easy it is to forget the brokenness that drew us to Christ in the first place. Still, the body of Christ has had challenges with discerning and holding onto truth from the start. One minute the Corinthians are on fire for the gospel. Then getting rebuked for sexual immorality in next. 1 Cor 5 On a good day we prophecy in part, know in part, and see in a glass darkly. Therefore everything we do must be grounded in a love for one another that we model before others. John 13:35 Otherwise we become loud dystopic clangs in an already dying world. 1 Cor 13:1
There’s a lot of clanging today
I don’t know about you but I can be pretty fiery. It doesn’t take a whole lot of media viewing to stoke my stupidity and expose my deficits in this area.
Part of the problem is that our society has become an ocean of normalized narcissism where personal opinions and significance have become idols and are monetized by Social Media. Yup being angry at someone because they disagree with the ALMIGHTY ME is narcissistic. Calling for revolution or civil war is psychotic. It may be coming soon thanks to the new religion of
Self-aggrandizement and maligning others in the temple of the smartphone.
“The Social Dilemma” is an absolute must for anyone who has ever asked questions like “How could anyone believe the Marxist driven Portland riots were a peaceful protest” or “How could any Christian support a Nazi white supremacist homophobic rapist like Donald Trump?”
The answer is scarier than you might imagine.
About two years ago I wrote Truth or Trump where I discussed what I learned during my old Forex trading days regarding how media manipulates markets and political narratives for profit. I concluded that political rage is destroying the witness of Christians. In the Anatomy of Deception, I covered the economic theory of Reflexivity and what George Soros termed the Fertile Fallacy and the Manipulative Function by which he determines reality. These also drive markets, public opinion, and behavior. That all of the aforementioned entities are working together to reform humanity in the forge of social media is- well… terrifying.
“The Social Dilemma” was a proverbial capstone.
God and Government – Fear Not
While there are all sorts of typological analogies that can be drawn from the Old Testament regarding kings and kingdoms, it is God who establishes both in accordance with His disposition toward nations. Our God-given rights can only be revoked by Him.
Hence He established both Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus.
Those who assume God didn’t establish Joe Biden and stand ready to redo 1776 should consider the almost prophetic words of John Adams in a letter to the Massachusetts Militia on October 11, 1798.
“We shall have the Strongest Reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the People of America, once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practicing iniquity and extravagance; and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor frankness & sincerity while it is rioting in rapine and insolence: this Country will be the most miserable habitation in the World. Because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition revenge or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The operative question here is; do the words, “moral and religious people” describe our nation today?
If that gets you thinking then you might be ready to read The Killing of Uncle Sam. Whatever you might think of Dr. Rodney Howard Brown’s controversial theology, he is writing as a historian. It definitely lends perspective to the words “turn from their wicked ways” in 2 Chron 7:14
“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
The bibliography alone is worth twice the price of his book.
Many of problems we face today are largely a result of our nation’s collective obsession with Netflix and sports instead of history, civics, and sound Bible exegesis. That two generations increasingly view what amounts to neo-Marxism as compassionate Biblically sound doctrine is a reaping of what we have sown.
Today we are in a very precarious position.
Everyone is being gaslit.
Everyone needs to question their epistemology.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s … thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.” – Mark Twain –
Our desire for and self-proclaimed God-ordained entitlement to justice comfort and prosperity is the source of our undoing. That’s the round about way of saying, “mammon kills!” Those are hard words but Jesus had hard words for those who should have known better. They are preserved for our edification. He and the apostles preached and modeled a message of total surrender of everything but the gospel. In the end, none but Judas backed down. All were beaten and killed for preaching it.
They did so amidst the following political climate and under rulers whom they never once opposed on political grounds.
Herod Antipas imprisoned and beheaded John the Baptist in 28AD for criticizing his marriage.
In 37AD well known Caligula embarked on a reign of terror which included the execution of James and the imprisonment of Peter from which he miraculously escaped.
He was succeeded in 41AD by Claudius, who expelled all the Jews from Rome.
62 AD saw Nero who blamed/set up Christians for the Great Fire of Rome in 64AD. He is best known for burning Christians as human candles and sending them to their deaths in the amphitheater. Both Paul and Peter were executed by Nero in 66AD. Nero committed suicide in 68AD and was succeeded by Vespasian, 69AD.
Titus destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD. He died in 81AD and was succeeded by his younger brother Domitian.
Domitian continued to persecute Christians because they wouldn’t worship the Roman gods or sacrifice to the Emperor. He exiled the apostle John to the island of Patmos in 89AD
The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount define our rights.
Here are some more hard words.
The gospel is not a call to political change, comfort, prosperity or even justice in this life. The Gospel is a call to die.
There is a poignant scene in the passion of the Christ where Mary is seen clutching fists full of the earth as her son is being nailed to the cross. She rises from her knees in conjunction with the soldiers pulling the cross into its vertical position then opens her fists to release the earth as the cross drops into the supporting hole. No one including the disciples understood what was happening until after the resurrection. The very act that brought eternal hope to the world emptied all of them of any hope they had in it.
All of us must get to this point.
Cathy and I often wonder how we and others would react to the crucifixion of our King if it happened today.
I suspect many would be calling for revolution and civil war.
As for us our heart and our hill are best described in the words Cathy recently wrote to a friend.
“Bringing Hope in a dying world is our heart cry. That Hope on a starving person’s death bed is longer lasting than any hot meal. Of course, a hot meal is good and important too. But knowing that when they leave this world, even if they are all alone, that Jesus’ arms are open and, ready to receive them into eternity with Him is all that will matter then. That said, our prayer request is that this message of Hope will cross the language barriers, that Holy Spirit is active and Jesus is glorified. That we will continue to hear and be obedient to God’s leading and that
His will be done!”
Now might be a good time to pause from climbing the summit of success and define the hill upon which you are willing to die.
Most Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled and therefore were not written directly to us, or about us. Nevertheless, many of us like to cherry-pick and incorporate selected verses for ourselves. We love the assurance of verses like Jeremiah 29:11 originally addressed to Israel. We apply significance to ourselves with verses like Isaiah 61:1 even though it’s about Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 declaring his identity in the temple 700 years later. Granted these verses continue to edify us regarding God’s unchanging character, plan, and purpose. Even so, why do we only apply the warm fuzzy words instead of hard ones likeJeremiah 14 or Isaiah 5:20?
Why not Nahum?
Approximately one hundred fifty years after its collective repentance and subsequent reprieve as a result of Jonah’s obedience, Nineveh was back in the biblical judgment news.
While Nahum was clear that“The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.” Nah 1:7like any true prophet he was also clear that God isn’t playing games and “reserves wrath for His enemies.”Nah 1:2
Still the question remains; who are His enemies?
He is clear in his rebuke and declaration of God’s judgment. Nineveh had become a nation of many races and was sustained by greed. Substance abuse was rampant.Nah 1:9-10There was violence in the streets, leaders plotted against the Lord and looting abounded in all its forms.Nah2:9
But looting was not limited to rioters in the streets. Nahum describes Nineveh’s leaders as“swarming locusts, and grasshoppers”. Nahum 3:17 Grasshoppers and locusts pillage and never produce. They disappear in the light of the sun.
As in the days of Jeremiah who rebuked the lying prophets for their ear-tickling positivity and their claims that God said things that He never did,Jerm 14:13-15the people of Nineveh had become complacent and perhaps oppositional. Apparently, they thought they were immune to God’s judgments. To which Nahum replies,
“Are you better than populous (Thebes)?…” “…(who) “was carried away, into captivity”.Nah 3:8-10
While his meaning may not have been quite as literal as the interpretation might be today, Nahum declares,
“Your people (men) have become women” the gates of your land are open to your enemies.”Nah 3:13
“Your shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria; Your nobles rest in the dust. Your people are scattered on the mountains, And no one gathers them.”Nah 3:18
There are a lot of ear-tickling, positivity prophets, and preachers these days. Almost all ofthem are declaring that“sword and famine shall not touch our land” and that peace and assurance shall abound. Jer 14:13 They minister to individual self-esteem at the expense of salvation and stoke the flames of personal significance instead of fear of our God who is a consuming fire.Heb 12:29
All declare an imminent revival.
Few call for repentance.
Everyone loves them. Everyone speaks well of them. Luke 6:26
The Bible is ultimately the most positive and hopeful message mankind has ever seen. Yet it is a conditional one. It’s time frame is eternal. It demands we abandon our ways and become set apart (Holy). This process begins with repentance from sin. Apart from this, no message, no word, no action on our part means a thing.
We are locked down in Honduras as I write. COVID cases have begun to double on a daily basis. The borders and airports are closed. No one can come in or go out. There’s a 6 month to 2-year jail sentence awaiting anyone who violates a curfew. Hondurans in our little community are obedient and calm. They are familiar with crises. Two older American friends in another part of the country are locked down too. He is a retired architect and has had a series of strokes. His wife is left to cope with his rapidly deteriorating condition by herself. They don’t have COVID but COVID is placing his life in jeopardy.
Meanwhile there are about two hundred North Americans, most of whom are short term missionaries stranded here. Several of them are demanding their rights and that the US State Dept does something to evacuate them. We strongly encouraged people to postpone their trips weeks before COVID first reared its head. Unfortunately confirmation bias reigned supreme. I guess their plans, ministry and mission were too important. I can empathize. I remember thinking and feeling the same way as a short-term missionary myself.
Howe and Strauss are Historians and social scientists who observed an Ecclesiastes 3 cycle in American history that shows a new era, a season or “Turning” every 20 -25 years. Four turns or seasons amount to a Saeculum or the length of a long lifetime. In simplest terms, the most recent “First Turning” 1945 -65 was the “High” and could be likened to a honeymoon period. It was marked by the end of WWII and the birth to the American dream. Families were strengthened as were social institutions like schools, local governments and church. Individual roles both inside and outside the family were clearly defined.
The “Second Turning”, 1965-85, the “Awakening”, was a period of questioning all those things. It was a time of spiritual upheaval, when the old order came under attack. It was marked by things like the birth of ERA, the Vietnam war and the subsequent student lead peace movements, the Water Gate Trial and Impeachment of Richard Nixon. Basically, every social institution was challenged.
The “Third Turning”, 1985-2005, the “Unraveling” was a time when the individual reigned supreme. Punk rock and rap glorified criminality and anti-social behavior, swinging, divorce and open homosexuality became normalized. And culminated with the HIV AIDS epidemic and the destruction of the twin towers in New York. Post Modernism grew to become the dominant world view and continued corruption and government scandals fueled an already growing distrust of nearly all established authority and institutions.
The “Fourth Turning” 2005 -25 is the “Crisis”. We are in the thick of it now.
As Straus and Howe wrote in 1996.
“The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire. . .The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II.”
“The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and effort — in other words, a total war. Every Fourth Turning has registered an upward ratchet in the technology of destruction, and in mankind’s willingness to use it.”
Howe and Strauss predicted we Americans will be forced to make decisions that mirror the hardest ones made by our predecessors as
“great peril provokes a societal consensus, an ethic of personal sacrifice, and strong institutional order”. “And it will require us to admit that our faith in linear progress has often amounted to a Faustian bargain with our children. Faust always ups the ante, and every bet is double or nothing. Through much of the Third Turning, we have managed to postpone the reckoning. But history warns that we can’t defer it beyond the next bend in time.”
There is always talk of the end of days whenever a major crisis hit. I don’t claim to be a prophet and I certainly don’t know for sure. My own bias is to doubt it. Even so, my wife Cathy made a keen observation the other day. The beginning of sorrows that Jesus spoke about in Mat 24:8-13 translates to “Birth Pangs”. Birth pangs progressively increase in frequency and intensity until the water breaks and the baby is born. If this is the beginning of sorrows it will usher in the millennial reign of Christ. Fourth Turns gradually come to an end and are followed by another High.
In either case if we are to survive in a war time footing, we need to accurately discern the time. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their lack of discernment in Mathew 16:1-4.
“Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.” A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Everything they needed to identify Jesus was already in the scriptures. The problem was that Jesus did not match their interpretation and resulting expectations and Jesus remained hidden in plain view.
A lot of us have the same problem today.
Signs, wonders and spiritual gifts are all the rage these days. Myriad charismatic leaders inspire people to follow in their footsteps. Evangelists, prophets, those with gifts of healing and an angle on prosperity abound. Those with the most dramatic, feel good performances and the biggest followings on social media become heroes of the faith even if their teachings are scripturally unsound. Jesus said,
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” Luke 6:26 and “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Mat 24:37 Noah preached repentance and righteousness 2 Pet 2:5 then built an ark in the middle of the desert. He was mocked and rejected as a result. How much more are those who preach the same message in 2 Timothy 3 world rejected?
Cathy just read some headlines as I write.
“Vegas strip club offers drive through peep shows” in response to COVID and “Man beaten to death by mob for having Corona Virus.”
You might be on fire for Jesus. But a quick skim of the daily headlines should be all one needs to discern the times and the message that the world needs.
Discernment drives action
I’ve heard people quote and seen people post Psalm 91 so many times in the past few weeks that everyone including unbelievers should have it memorized by now. Problem is – many receive it as a magic incantation that allows them to fearlessly continue with their lives as if nothing was happening.
A cursory word study quickly reveals that dwelling in secret place of Psalm 91:1 upon which one’s protection is contingent, refers to both the secret place Jesus talked about in Mat 6:6 . It also means a literal “shelter, a hiding place.”
By the way, has anyone stopped to consider that COVID could peak during Passover?
I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.
If nothing else this situation is facing us with a very real question. God or mammon?
Many young people are assuming, they are invincible and choosing to party rather than comply with recommendations, warnings and ordinances. We have young friends and relatives who seem utterly oblivious to the crisis at hand.
The keys to surviving a crisis and thriving in the subsequent high lay in how we respond. There were people who jumped to their deaths from high-rises when the market crashed in 1929. Those more prudent made fortunes. The most grievous error we can make is to fail to discern the time. We may assume a Fourth Turn crisis is the end and enter what AIM calls the “Q” (quit) zone. Or we could mistake the crisis for a First Turn high as so many spring breakers are doing now.
“Great peril provokes a societal consensus, an ethic of personal sacrifice, and strong institutional order.” That means a return to First Turn values. People have been praying for and prophesying revival for decades. Yet how soon we forget that revivals begin with radical repentance. More often than not this repentance is preceded by an event that causes people to recognize their spiritual bankruptcy. An event like like the great San Francisco earthquake that preceded the Azuza Street revival in 1915. Yes, Jesus healed and does heal people but His primary reason for coming was to be a propitiation for our sin. He came to rescue us from hell. Miracles and healing look more spectacular to our disbelieving and entertainment hungry eyes. But they are secondary to dealing with our sin. John 1:22 As Ray Comfort says, “God comes to us with a subpoena in one hand and a pardon in the other.” We love to tell people about the loving pardon while avoiding the subpoena all together.
As the current COVID crisis grows, I have yet to hear anyone under the age of 85 preach a message of repentance. There seems to be a correlation between this and the fact that those 80 and older were alive during the previous Fourth Turn. Hope for a nation that has murdered over 61,000,000 babies’ since Roe v Wade, maligned the name of Jesus as a matter of public policy and rejected His substitutionary work on the cross isn’t going to be found in Psalm 91 without embracing 2 Chron 7:14 first.
“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
My oldest surviving uncle Lester will be 90 in June. He built his own sugar house and makes his own maple syrup in Ashfield Massachusetts because he needs something to do when it’s too cold to work.
His wife Nancy is a retired biologist with a passion for conservation.
The last time I visited, Aunt Nancy had just chased a mother bear and her cubs away from her beehives on foot. At dinner Lester and I spoke about the last Fourth Turn. Uncle Lester is a retired Navy Vet. His brother fought at Normandy. He doesn’t speak a lot but when he does it behooves people to find the parable. Uncle Lester grew up poor during the Great Depression but says he didn’t know it. He never complains and talked a lot about the value and power of gratitude and community during hard times. Elders in places like Ashfield Mass still work hard and have a lot of character. They are our national treasures.
I recently saw a meme directed at chronic COVID complainers.
If our culture persists in a collective belief that our individual rights reign supreme, that we are somehow owed something and that it’s the government’s job to provide it for free at the expense of other people simply because they have more; then I can assure you that the authoritarian outcome or worse mentioned by Straus and Howe is almost certain.
Instead I found an example of the requisite attitude for success, especially for Christians during a Fourth Turn in Acts 14. During the Apostle Paul’s 1st missionary journey he and Baranabas were kicked out of Antioch. So they traveled 85 miles to preach the Gospel in Iconium. Unbelieving Jews stirred up dissension and tried to beat and stone him. So, Paul and Barnabas moved on to Lystra and Derbe where taught and people were healed. Everyone thought they were Zeus and Hermes and started to worship them. No sooner had they put an end to that craziness then the previous Jews who had followed them from Iconium showed up. This time they were successful in stoning Paul. They dragged what they thought was his dead body outside the city gate and left him there. The disciples gathered around him probably in mourning. But before they could do anything Paul jumped up brushed himself off and went back into the city where;
“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
This May we will have lived in Honduras for three years. We’ve been through our share of crises and we stocked up on beans and rice a few weeks ago in anticipation of what is happening now. The other day we gave some away to a neighbor in need. I’ve been racking my brain as to how we are going to feed people when the food runs out. What will we do if someone gets sick? How will we care for people? Last night some girls from the tiny Catholic church down the road delivered dinner to our door. Being a full-time missionary is teaching me just how unimportant I am.
I don’t know what is happening or is going to happen. If you read my previous blogs, my conclusions regarding COVID remain the same.
Believe what we want “We still don’t know jack.”
What I do know from both God’s Word and my own experienceis that
Jesus did not come to give us our best life now. He came to redeem and transform us.
Everything will be shaken. Only what can’t be shaken will remain. Heb 12:26-28
Who we are and what we do “will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.” Only that which is of God will survive. 1Cor 3:12-15
While our eternal hope is definitely in Jesus. Our ability to remain in that hope will be determined by our individual and collective character. Character is produced by perseverance. Tribulation is its catalyst. Rom 5:3-7
Please keep us in prayer. Apart from divine intervention we are in big trouble if COVID gets a hold of us.
If you are receiving this it’s because we love you.